Saturday 21 September 2019

Why We Need Pro Bono University Extension Classes Again

Greek Alive and Well on the Strand!
This week I kicked off my weekly A-Level Greek classes for adults, free. I'm tenured, with a lighter teaching load than younger academics and in a relatively secure department, so can find the time.  It was a joy to read some Greek tragedy with such an attentive and committed audience. If like-minded lecturers gave up a couple of hours a week to offer their specialist knowledge to local people gratis, we could begin to remember what a university is for: enhancing the intellectual and cultural life of the community.

To provide some context, the two-term Beginners’ Greek class at Oxford University’s Dept. for Continuing Education is advertised as costing 'From £373.00'.  This week I received a request to join my initiative from an East End Pensioner who had to give up the Greek classes at CityLit because s/he can’t afford the £169 per term as well as feed the cat. I accepted.

With Co-Author Henry at Victoria Station
This country used to have a proud tradition of University Extension and Extra-Mural Education, offered free, affordably or funded by Trade Unions. In our forthcoming A People’s History of Classics, Henry Stead and I trace the exemplary public courses in classical subjects pioneered by socially committed professional ancestors at several universities from the late 19th century onwards.
Toynbee Hall, Tower Hamlets

Albert Mansbridge, who later founded the Workers’ Educational Association, had taken Extension courses at my own King’s College London. Many London professors gave up time to teach the proletarian students at Toynbee Hall. At Leeds, Prof. Rhys Roberts organised archaeology and classics classes for local working men in the 1910s. It was the QUB Professor of Latin, Robert Mitchell Henry, who almost single-handedly founded the Belfast Workers’ Educational Association in 1910; 56 local people took his first course on ‘Roman Social Life Under the Early Empire’. 

Katherine Glasier, Newnham Extension Tutor
At Cambridge, Newnham College Classicists took a day out a week in the 1880s to teach postmen and cab-drivers. The Association to Promote the Higher Education of Working Men received ‘public recognition from the representatives of nearly all the Universities and a large number of labour organisations’ at a meeting in the Examination Schools of Oxford University on 25th August 1908: of the radicals at Oxford who wanted to see their university opened to a much wider social range and its wealth redistributed, every single one had studied or was teaching Classics there:  R.H. Tawney, William Temple, Alfred Zimmern, Richard Livingstone, J.L. Myers and William Beveridge. 

Joe Guy, a miner from Sacriston, in 1952 studied Greek on a course set up by the National Union of Mineworkers and Durham Colleges’ Board of Extra-mural Studies.  The Durham University Extension Lectures aimed ‘to bring some of the benefits of University teaching within the reach of persons, of either sex and of every class, who have been unable to join the University as Matriculated Students’.  In 1916 the extra-mural teaching was directed by Revd. E.G. Pace, whose ambition was 'to interest more pitmen in Extra-mural work’.   In the late 1940s, Walter Taylor’s extra-mural Social History course covered the Roman Occupation of Durham County, and his evening classes (1957-8), entitled Archaeology and History of Roman Britain, were well attended at Billingham Technical College.  One H.W. Harbottle taught Ancient History from 1954-56, in the pit communities of Langley Park and Chester-le-Street. 

We could do this again, for free. We CAN fight back against the disgusting commercialisation of our universities, whose over-riding imperative is now to make enough money to pay the ludicrous salaries of the talentless management class. It is disgraceful that so few Higher Education organisations today pay serious attention to the provision of cost-free education for the less privileged members of society. 

Aristotle, who taught the public in the afternoons, says that tyrants always shut down community reading groups because they foster the critical thinking and social bonds which will always, ultimately, destroy tyranny. He was right. Let’s Make British Universities Really Matter Again!

1 comment:

  1. Would that you could. Are people too entrapped by their social media and televisions? It would be fascinating to learn the attitudes of those willing to attend. I wonder if distance learning might work?